Liberals unveil prorogation proposal of their own

The House of Commons may be shut down until March 3, but Liberal and New Democratic Party MPs were back at work in Ottawa on Monday to drive home their opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament.

The federal Liberals on Monday unveiled a proposal that would curb the power of the prime minister to prorogue Parliament, less than a week after the NDP announced a similar plan.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff calls Monday for new rules about proroguing Parliament, with his caucus showing their support in the foyer of the House of Commons. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
The Liberal proposal would require the prime minister to give the House of Commons 10 days' written notice of a move to prorogue Parliament. It would also require the prime minister to submit the question to the House for debate.

The House would have to vote on the matter in cases of moves to prorogue less than a year after the speech from the throne or for more than a month at a time.

"Prorogation would never be allowed when matters of confidence are before the House, " said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, adding that no prime minister should be able to shut down Parliament to avoid a confidence vote.

The House of Commons may be shut down until March 3, but Liberal and NDP MPs were back in Ottawa to drive home their opposition to Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament.

The Liberal proposal would also allow parliamentary committees to remain constituted and working until the first day of a new session.

'Listening to Canadians'

The new proposal marks a shift for the Liberals. Recently, Ignatieff had said prorogation was a legitimate prime ministerial power but one that he said he wouldn't abuse.

"I think we're listening to Canadians," Ignatieff said when pressed about the shift.

Speaking in front of the closed doors of the House of Commons on Monday, NDP Leader Jack Layton called Harper's move "a high-handed decision to padlock Parliament.

"With this decision though, we think he overstepped, and Canadians are telling him as much through Facebook, through rallies, through letters, through phone calls," Layton said.

"While his action is fundamentally un-Canadian, we take heart from the Canadian response of the grass roots because Canadians are sending him a message," he said.

While the NDP and Liberals are back on Parliament Hill, the Bloc Québécois did not plan to send its MPs back to Ottawa.

Harper was in Montreal on Monday at an international meeting on the reconstruction of earthquake-battered Haiti.

Rallies protest prorogation

Parliament was originally due to return to work Monday after a six-week Christmas break. However, at the end of December, the prime minister announced his decision to push that restart date to March 3, saying the delay would give the government more time to focus on the economy.

The Winter Games from Feb. 12 to 28 in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., were also cited as a reason to delay the return of MPs.

The Opposition blasted the move, saying Harper was just trying to avoid continued scrutiny over its handling of Afghan detainees.

On Saturday, thousands of people attended rallies in towns and cities across Canada to demonstrate against the suspension of Parliament.

RCMP officials in Ottawa estimated that roughly 3,500 people took part in the rally on Parliament Hill, while in Toronto, thousands of protesters gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Rallies were also staged in Regina and Saskatoon and attracted several hundred people.